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THE BEER JUST MAKES IT BETTER

THE BALTIMORE SUN

Any gourmand can tell you that cooking with wine is one way to make a dish more flavorful. The addition of a little vino makes sauces and marinades more robust, thus enhancing the overall entrees. A little beer in your pot can have the same positive outcome. A fine ale or stout, or even a cheap canned brew, can work wonders for a dish. Here are several items from Baltimore restaurants that, from basting to battering, give beer a chance.

Irish stew

Where: : An Poit?n Stil, 2323 York Road, 410-560-7900

Ingredients: : Braised lamb with onions, carrots and potatoes in a Guinness stout stock, served in a bread bowl.

Price: : $13.99

Dish: : Never underestimate the awesome power of really good stew. It fills you up. It warms you up. It makes you happy. That is the case with the Irish stew at the Stil. The dish was so thick and hearty, it could almost be consumed with a fork. Lamb can get tough and flavorless, but the meat in this bowl was so moist it seemed to have absorbed all of the flavors of the vegetables and thick stout broth.

Stout brie

Where: : An Poit?n Stil

Ingredients: : Wedge of brie dipped in stout beer batter and fried and drizzled with raspberry sauce, served with bread and fruit.

Price: : $7.95

Dish: : After consuming this fried cheese, you might never eat a lowly mozzarella stick ever again. Just break the crust of the soft beer batter, and warm, gooey brie oozes out, waiting to be scooped up with the crispy baguette. The raspberry sauce could have made the dish overly sweet, but it was just enough to complement the cheese without overpowering its rich flavor.

Crab fluff

Where: : Bo Brooks, 2701 Boston St., 410-558-0202

Ingredients: : Jumbo lump crab cake beer-battered and fried, served with choice of two sides.

Price: : $14

Dish: : What do you get when you cross a hush puppy with a crab cake? You get Bo Brooks' crab fluff. To some, the idea of encasing Howard "Bo" Brooks' famous backfin crab cake in beer batter and deep-frying it is sacrilege. However, the result is a dish that is absolutely bad for you ... and absolutely delicious. Crab meat, grease and dough? That's a winning combination.

Boh-battered O's

Where: : Hamilton Tavern, 5517 Harford Road, 410-426-1930

Ingredients: : Onion rings dipped in National Bohemian beer batter and deep-fried, served with spicy garlic sauce.

Price: : $5

Dish: : While many beer connoisseurs come to Hamilton Tavern for the Resurrection Ale and other fine brews, it's the onion rings made with the wonderfully unrefined Natty Boh that are the real attraction. The true test of quality for an onion ring is to see how it tastes after it has been sitting around for a while. All onion rings are edible straight out of the fryer, but when they are still crispy and crunchy after they have cooled off, that is a sign of a quality o-ring. Such is the case with the rings at Hamilton Tavern. The spicy garlic sauce (which tasted like ketchup, mayo and Dijon mustard with a hint of garlic) was a nice touch, but these rings were better with just plain old Heinz ketchup.

Beer-battered sausage and 'chips'

Where: : James Joyce Irish Pub, 616 President St., 410-727-5107

Ingredients: : Two sausages beer-battered and fried, served with french fries and baked beans.

Price: : $11.95

Dish: : James Joyce puts a twist on the traditional Irish dish of bangers and mash and gives it a more Americanized flavor, with sausage that is battered and deep-fried and potatoes that are also deep-fried. However, while the entire entr?e, minus the baked beans, came from the deep fryer, the food was not overly greasy. The batter was very light and preserved the sweetness and tenderness of the meat inside.

Beer mussels

Where: : Mama's on the Half Shell, 2901 O'Donnell St., 410-276-3160

Ingredients: : Shrimp, red onions, tomatoes, peppers, mussels and chorizo sausage served in a beer broth.

Price: : $12.95

Dish: : Lots of restaurants steam shrimp and mussels in beer, but not like Mama's does. It adds sausage, peppers and onions to the mix to give the dish a spicy kick. Hunks of bread come on the side so diners can sop up the liquid at the bottom of the bowl. Just how good was the beer broth? After the bread was all gone, several diners considered drinking the mixture straight from the serving bowl or doing shots of it.

Beer-battered pickles

Where: : Pickles Pub, 520 Washington Blvd., 410-752-1784

Ingredients: : Dill pickle spears, battered and deep-fried, served with tortilla chips and ranch dressing.

Price: : $4.95

Dish: : Pickles are usually just something to add to a burger or throw on the side of a plate to go along with the chips for a sandwich. Naturally, at Pickles Pub, the once lowly pickle is served proudly as a main item. But the pub just can't serve the pickles in their natural state. This is a sports bar, after all, so Pickles gives the item a manly makeover by beer-battering and deep-frying its pickle spears. The result is a pickle that is crispy on the outside and warm and mushy on the inside. The spears are served with plenty of dipping sauce for added deliciousness.

Spicy hot cheese balls

Where: : Pickles Pub

Ingredients: : Cubes of pepper jack cheese, beer-battered and fried, served with tortilla chips and marinara sauce.

Price: : $4.95

Dish: : Another twist on standard bar mozzarella sticks are the spicy cheese balls at Pickles Pub. Each piece of crispy cheese is like a tiny ball of fire. Fans of spicy bar food like hot wings will love these. However, Pickles might want to rethink its choice of sauce. Marinara is more for mozzarella. Ranch dressing from another appetizer was a much better complement.

Chesapeake fish and chips

Where: : Pratt Street Ale House, 206 W. Pratt St., 410-244-8900

Ingredients: : Beer-battered striped bass served with french fries and coleslaw.

Price: : $14.99

Dish: : Pratt Street Ale House doesn't use just any old brew for its beer-battered fish and chips. The fish here is proudly dipped in the establishment's own Oliver Ale, brewed on site. The fish itself is huge - practically Shamu-sized - and the beer-batter coating is extra thick and crispy. The fish was very tender and well worth venturing through the outer coating.

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